1st thought: To believe in God because It makes you feel better.
Atheists commonly say that believers believe in God because it makes us feel better. And in part that’s truth. It’s scientifically proven than prayer, meditation and faith in the Transcendence makes people feel better. However, If I’m going to believe in God, It won’t be because it makes me feel better; that’s called escapism, avoiding reality. What good is there in believing in the ‘flying pink unicorn’ only to feel better? I’d rather ask: Does the Flying Pink Unicorn exist? Did anyone see it? Is there any evidence? If the only answer I get is: “Just believe, make no questions”, you can be sure I won’t waste my time anymore with such a creature. I won’t base my beliefs in the traditions of my family, nor in fairytales, or imposed doctrines. I won’t believe just because a bunch of “believers” tell me: “It’s the truth” or “You will burn in hell if you don’t”. In the old days people were threatened (and sometimes even forced) to “believe”. I say, do not fear to search and research.
That’s why Solomon said:
“A simple man believes anything, a prudent man gives thought to his steps” (Proverb 14:15).
2nd thought: Impossibility to see the Invisible.
The great challenge I find is this: How to prove the existence of a being that is not only invisible, but also way bigger than us? I mean, it’s as if a little chromosome within the organism tries to prove the existence of human beings. Quite a huge challenge!
Let’s say you were a chromosome: how would you search for evidence about the existence of a “human being”? You would look at the world that surrounds you, you would study the characteristics and behaviour of everything that is within your capacity to study. Just like the scientists came to realize that we live in a galaxy called the Milky Way. The Jewish lore tells us that this is exactly what our father Avraham did when he came on his own to believe in God (we will talk about this later). King David wrote about this:
“The Heavens tell the glory of the Mighty one, and the firmament proclaim the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1).
In other words, King David is inviting us to study the world surrounding us and come to consciously realize that God created it. I followed his advice, I took Avraham’s example, and me, too, came to the same conclusion.
Science and archaeology are based on the same principle: they study an object or a situation, and consider its complexity, characteristics and context: If the object or situation is simple and makes natural sense, then it is considered a causality of nature. If, on the contrary, they find that the complexity is overwhelming, they declare that situation or object is “man-made”; i.e., an Intelligent design. But let’s be honest: have you ever thought about the complexity of the brain, of the DNA, of the laws of nature… etc? The human body is so fragile and easily destroyed, yet is so complex, that it escapes our understanding. But let’s start from the beginning.
3rd thought: The probability that Existence came into being.
In my personal quest to find an answer to the very existence of the Creator, the first question I stepped with was: Why is there something instead of nothing?
Why do I exist? Alright, because my parents made me, but what If my parents didn’t exist? I wouldn’t exist either. And If our ancestors didn’t exist? Then the parents of my parents wouldn’t exist either. Going back to the origins of the universe, if before anything there was “nothing at all”, then we don’t have a logical explanation for our existence. Something that is frozen doesn’t unfreeze unless there’s a ‘reaction’, or rather, an element that triggers a chain of reactions that ultimately cause the object to melt. Therefore, can ‘something’ come from absolute nothingness without a cause? without a trigger? A philosophical logical answer would be that the universe is actually eternal and the matter itself is eternal; it has always been there. But it just happens that scientists have found a long time ago that our universe had a beginning, that it actually came out of “something” we can only theorize about. There are many explanations but the simple idea is that the universe expanded from a very tiny singularity that ‘exploded’, so to say.
So why? Why does the universe exist, and even more important than that, why does it follow all these natural laws? Why the gravity holds me at the floor? Why am I able to consciously and logically ponder about all of these things? Can a non-rational universe, created by pure chance, with no reason or purpose at all, with no intelligent intervention whatsoever, be able to create all these laws of behaviour in the nature, making the matter evolve to the point to create intelligent beings?
If the universe was indeed created by a chain of pure random events, the most logical expectation should be a universe of pure chaos, with no life and with no logical laws. I thought: If there’s no God, then we are simply alone in here; we came out of nothing and the apparent astonishing wisdom of nature that created us and binds us here is just pure, raw, and unalterable luck. I’d go further: we are alone and everything we do, whether good or bad, means nothing in the long term, because one day we will simply disappear from this universe. Can our ethics and morals be nothing but instincts to guarantee our temporary survival as a society? and if so, why? Why does the universe care at all?
The “clock” metaphor was brought to my attention and I thought it was fitting enough to express my feelings: Whenever see a clock working, I recognize and acknowledge that someone has created it. I don’t think for one second that the clock created itself, with all of its hundreds of little pieces created and self-assembled by pure randomness. We all know it’s an intelligent design. Now, the universe may appear to some like a bunch of rocks and chaos in which our species somehow managed to exist and evolve, but even this over-simplified claim is very complex in the practical level. To say that this universe was created by itself requires, in my opinion, a lot more amounts of faith than believing that an intelligence is behind its creation.
Let’s consider the following scientific curiosities.
4th thought: The Miracle of Life.
One coincidence is normal, two coincidences are very acceptable, three coincidences can pass, four start to be suspicious. Hundreds of coincidences working together… that’s like playing the lottery a million times and wining always. You might still think it’s mere luck, but I would think that some Intelligence cheated the game. Check this out:
Hadn’t have the Big-Bang the specific speed it had, the universe wouldn’t have life right now, not even planets. The specific speed of this explosion gave place to the 4 elemental forces that affect the matter as it does today. If these forces that govern the world were not calibrated in the way they are, right now we wouldn’t be here.
For example, If the Gravitational Force was stronger, the stars would burn out too quickly and unevenly (= No Life). And if it were weaker, the stars could not become hot enough to ignite nuclear fusion. They would burn so slowly they wouldn’t make the heavy elements needed for planets.
Besides, with a somewhat stronger gravity the atmosphere of our planet would be poisonous to us, and if the gravity was weaker, the earth wouldn’t hold the water as it does now.
If the Strong Nuclear Force was stronger or weaker by more than a 1% the universe would be either all hydrogen or have no hydrogen at all. There would be no life. Likewise, had the Weak Nuclear Force been a 1% different, the universe would contain too much or too less Helium. There would be no planets anyway.
Considering the size of our planet, we have the right Sun: Bigger would burn us, smaller would freeze us, we don’t even take into consideration many other factors that would cause us to have a totally different sun.
Also, if our Moon was further or closer from us, or was smaller or bigger, this planet would be only water, or would have been destroyed a long time ago by meteors, or would orbit in a different way, impeding life to exist.
Additionally, the strong gravity of Jupiter absorbs most of the impacts of dangerous asteroids, and again, If Jupiter was not there, the Earth would have changed her orbit and there would be no life. In the same manner, the Earth has the perfect tilt to prevent an extreme weather that otherwise would prevent the existence of our species in this planet.
What are the odds for all of this to come to be at the same time? Everything in our planet and around our planet, and even in the laws of nature that rule our planet seem to have been created to host human life. People don’t usually care about the scope of such a statement, it could be just that we are just “giving too much thought to a random process” of simple… luck, but the fact that I can think about it and a stone can’t, is enough for me to keep searching. It is similar to the little pieces of the proverbial Clock working together, to serve a purpose, isn’t it? It’s as if someone knew that by putting all of these mechanisms together, at the end we would have intelligent life in this planet. But we normally refuse to accept there is a watchmaker behind our universe.
5th thought: The capacity for Evolution to answer everything.
The law of evolution, as it is presented today, offers an alternative answer to my previous claim: It’s not that the world was designed to bring life into earth, as I said, but quite the opposite: Life finds its way. We adapt to the world that surround us and evolve; everything does. This is truth. The many different ethnic groups and the many sub-species within a species are clear visible evidence that we adapt and evolve, there is no discussion on this. However, the evolutionary proposal does not solve my problem. If life finds her way within the world surrounding her, there should be life in each and every planet. There should be life adapted to the Moon, to the Sun, to Mercury or even Pluto, even life adapted to the very emptiness of the space. But It’s not so. Very precise characteristics are required for intelligent life to exist, it’s not as simple. In my ignorance, I still wonder why does the matter want to evolve, instead of remaining as it was in the… beginning?
I once tried to explain a teenager how evolution works and he asked: How is it possible that some gases and a couple rocks gave intelligent life as a result? Let’s be honest, not even the most advanced scientist today has a concluding answer for this. None does. The only approach to our cosmic past is by mathematical calculations, and this too takes for granted that the universe follows logical laws that we can logically measure. So, when we question the existence of Intelligent life on our planet, the theoretical explanations come in all kind of flavors: from the simplistic explanation: “That’s what logically was expected to happen, deal with it”, to the “Life originated in another planet and a meteor brought it here.” None of these answers explain the real reason life came to be; they simply avoid the question.
Again and again, why is there complex life in the universe? The ancient philosophers offered the idea that life could appear spontaneously if the conditions given in the ecosystem were the correct ones: You can imagine, insects suddenly popping-up from warm water, or worms from a corpse, for example. There’s no experiment that proves that even microbes can be generated spontaneously, though. A more realistic explanation is that the transition from non-living to living entities was not a single event, but a gradual process of increasing complexity that involved molecular self-replication, self-assembly, autocatalysis… etc., and this is most probably true! Although scientists don’t really know how (they have various theories on the table). However, two things called my attention here: Our planet is actually a baby (considering the age of other planets in the universe), every scientist would tell you this: “Our planet is very young“, and evolution takes billions and billions of years to take place, and since there is no intelligence ruling Mother Nature, evolution and the formation of life requires millions of random sequences of ‘try and error’ to successfully get what we have in here.
Some even theorize that there may have been many other universes before ours, many other universes that “failed” in creating life, but, hey, we are so tremendously lucky that we live in a universe that defied the odds and successfully managed to host us.
The idea can be better understood with this story:
- There was a gigantic Titan that played a dice game which involves trillions and trillions of dice ─ so many dice that you can compare them to the grains of sand in a beach ─ and in order to win this game, you need to roll a 1 in ALL of them at the same time. So he began to play and cast trillions and trillions of dice on the table, and repeated and repeated, day after day, many times, until one lucky day, after years of playing, he won. The main difference between the story and the scientific proposal is that in the scientific proposal there is no ‘giant’ casting the dice, they just do, by themselves…. just because.
But let’s continue with this hypothesis, that ours is just the ‘lucky’ universe after many other failed attempts: (1) This doesn’t explain how the first universe began anyway and (2) the Big-bang event starts the universe from the scratch, it reboots all the astronomical chances that are required to form life, so it doesn’t matter how many universes ‘failed’ before us, it still doesn’t explain why our universe succeeded.
- This is my first observation: In our blue planet, life appeared too soon (half a billion years after the earth was formed!!) Life arose here almost as soon as it theoretically could (which is very suspicious). Earth is not old enough for spontaneous life, yet, here we are! Intelligent beings living in it.
- My second observation is within life itself: There are animals that posses an incredibly complex system to inject poison to their enemies. Now, the question is: Did they develop the faculty to produce poison before or after being able to eject it? If so, how is it that they didn’t poison themselves? Or maybe they developed the system to inject the poison before being able to fabricate it. But why? Did the body of the animal know that in the future it will produce poison so it prepared itself to eject it?
If life emerged from microscopic amoebas, and evolution takes a long, long, time to work, how did the heart, the lungs or the kidney evolve? These organs in process of evolution are completely useless; they do not have a function until they are completely developed. How do the transitional species survive with incomplete and non-functional organs? And I’d also ask, why not: where are they?
As you can notice, the appearance of the universe, the laws of physics and life are the sum of millions and millions of fortuitous situations, so fortuitous that it is easier to win the lottery a 100 times. Yet, here we are.
6th thought: Evolution vs Creationism
I’ve grown up seeing Christians and atheists always raising these debates about Creationism vs Evolution. Quite often, Christians reject the scientist discoveries, afraid that they will invalidate their Bible. The atheist world, on the other hand, have the perception that religion and science are contrary. However, for a Jew that is familiar with the language used in the Torah, the theory of evolution is not against their religion. On the contrary!
“God said, let the waters teem with living creatures, and let flyers fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky” (Genesis 1:20).
The word translated as: “Teem” (in Hebrew Sharats) is based on a root, השרץ , that means ‘to breed’. So, how is it that “water bred living beings”? Didn’t the wise people say that life comes from water?* So here is an ancient religious text saying that the origin of birds is in the water. In chapter two it says that God gave form to these same birds through the earth (adamah). So the water bred animals, and later the ground (the ecosystem) formed them (Genesis 2:19). I’m not making this up. It is there, in the plain text.
7th thought: A Cruel God.
When people like me see that the world points to an intelligent design, or at least to an Intelligence that reigns over the process of evolution and random sequences, then we realize there is a Force beyond comprehension. It must be one, because if there were two or more, we would assume that these “forces” were also created by Something else. Where there’s plurality, there is creation. The result of logic would always point to this Intelligent, most singular, non-complex Unity ever imagined. Most rational people, after these kind of conversations accept that there must be what we call: “a God”; the “Source” of all sources. However, there is always something that kicks them back to atheism. And what is it?
“If God exists, he would not allow all of this suffering, he would not let children die… etc”.
Being honest and analytically cold, this argument is completely irrelevant for God’s existence. People have a preconceived idea of what God must be, what God must do, what God must say… etc. Atheists and quite often also Christians, when imagine God, think of a beardy old man living on a cloud in the sky, saying all day: ‘I Love you guys, I Love you guys’. They therefore think that if there is a God, he must behave the way they would behave. In other words, they unconsciously think: If there is a God, it must be like me, or if I were God, I would do things better than He. When we are upset we tend to tell God what he must do, and If God doesn’t behave as we wish, then (1) we hate Him or (2) we lose our faith in Him.
But these are frustrations based on our preconceived ─ and at times selfish ─ ideas. If you disagree with the president you don’t say “the president does not exist”, right? … … well… …. (*cough*)… right?… (*ehem*… never mind).
When I studied the different ideas about God, I was pleased by how Judaism describes God, based on the very statement they received from their encounter with God Himself:
- “God is One” (Deut 6:4). God does not have form or body (Psalm 139:8), he cannot be matter (a created element), he is invisible and serve no similarities with created things (Numbers 23:19; Dt 4:15; Psalm 89:6). He is immaterial, and is not subject to the 4 dimensions we are bounded to. He is for example beyond the course of time and space; in other words, He’s an unparalleded singular being, an immaterial entity occupying everything and knowing all things (Psalm 33:15) (cf. 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th of Rambam’s 13 principles of faith in the introduction of Pereq Kheleq). Like Maimonides wrote: “Those who believe that God is One, and at the same time think He has many attributes, they declare the unity with their lips, and assume plurality in their thoughts” (Moreh Nevukhim 1:50).
So for me, His existence is far more natural and logical than the Olympian god Zeus (who is actually the one people have in mind when imagining God).
When the God of the Bible created the world, the Torah says: “The earth was chaos and voidness” (Genesis 1:2). And when God created anything, there were first problems, disorder (in Hebrew Erev, normally translated as evening) and then order and comprehension (in Hebrew Boker, normally translated as: Morning) (cf. Gen 1:5).
In other words, God created a world in which the laws of nature include opposites: night and day, order and disorder, life and death, good and bad… etc. Not only good, and not only morning. The natural laws were created this way, and God saw that “it was good” for creation to be like this (Genesis 1:31).
So the ancient Hebrew texts tell us that God created a “natural law” that goes on, with summer breezes and natural disasters. And even these disasters were considered “good” in God’s point of view, meaning they serve a purpose in Creation. For example, they prevent the earth from being immersed in hot lava, or the demographic exploitation (imagine if the dinosaurs had not been extinguished).
Additionally, this is a world in which we, as humans can fully exercise our free will. If there was nothing wrong to choose between good and evil, we would not really have free will, we would be like robots. But God’s purpose was:
“Earth and Heaven are going to be your witness, I have placed in front of you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life and you will live, you and your seed” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
Humans have the ability to burn a house, or to provide bread for it. When an incident takes place, we can choose between praying and forgiving or cursing and hatred. This only makes sense when we consider that the Creator has a plan for all of us. In other words, there is a transcendental reason for suffering in the world. This Intelligent Designer, not only made us, but he made us for a reason. He just appears to be a passive creator.
Thinking that God has nothing to do with us does not make Him disappear. At most, it would make him look cruel to some people, and the reason would be our lack of understanding of the bigger plan, of which we can only see a mere portion. But again, God being cruel does not automatically make Him non-existent.
Additionally, if we consider things with a cold mind, so many of the problems in this world could be solved by humans, if people were not so egoistic, selfish, evil and sometimes lazy and stupid. Let’s say that God has entrusted the care of the environment and the whole planet to its inhabitants. Then, since all the global warming and all its side effects are the product of human pollution, it is our fault, not God’s fault. But the problem is that we have assumed, from our immature understanding of God, that every time we pollute the world, and burn trees, and destroy the species, and even kill people… etc., God will magically intervene, change the course of nature for us, and everything will be rainbows and butterflies. But that’s not so. Among other things, because if there were no consequences for our behaviour, we would not see the need to change it. The command “not to murder” would be meaningless if God intervenes every time a person attacks someone else. According to Christian and Jewish thought, there have been times (testimonies) in which God has indeed seen it necessary to intervene and perform wonders, but we have to face the truth, that as a general rule, we are not to rely on miracles because they do not often occur (Shabbat 32a).
Let’s say that there’s a natural reason for a volcano to exist; it might be dormant, but we all know at some point it will awake. Is it not a logical conclusion not to build a city at its foot, so that when the volcano does what it does, people will not die? Yes, there are people starving to death in Africa, but could it be changed if the rich chose to be less rich and share their wealth with the poor?
8th thought: The religion of God.
If behind the universe there is an Intelligent Designer, and we assume he made this world with a purpose… what purpose is this? Is there a way to know God personality? Should we follow blindly any religion, or thinking that even if God does exist, and He does have a purpose for his creation, we are far too small creatures to even be able to fathom what he wants from us? It’s like an ant trying to understand what a human expects from her. We simply don’t know.
I keep asking, are all religions the same? When we cannot argue against God’s existence, and we cannot argue against God having some kind of purpose for His creation, what we tend to believe is: All religions are the same, all are different forms to connect with the Creator. And in essence this is truth. In fact, I studied several religions and I can tell that their doctrines, teachings and essential ethics all emerged from an original source (whatever that source is), but something interesting happens when we contrast every religion’s origin.
How do they say Buddhism began? By a Revelation Siddhartha Gautama had.
How do they say Islam began? By a revelation Muhammad had.
How do they say the Hare Krishna movement started? By a revelation Bangali Chaitania had (which people believe was the incarnation of god Krishna).
How do they say the Watchtower religion began? By a revelation J.F. Rutherford had.
How do they say Mormonism began? By a revelation Joseph Smith had.
We can keep going for hours and hours mentioning religions created because one single man had a revelation. Even in the case of Christianity, it was all because of one man’s revelation according to some. Christianity follows Jesus, they claim it came from him, but Jesus himself was never a Christian, he identified himself with Judaism. The Christian movement – historians say, and even some Christians acknowledge it – began after Paul of Tarsus; a man who had a revelation on his way to Damascus and began to preach people about it. Again, and again, no matter what religion we are dealing with, it all boils down to the same principle: One man had a personal revelation, he preached about it, he made followers.
There are two exceptions to the norm. And these are Hinduism and Judaism.
About Hinduism, we don’t know how it originated. People believe that it was originally monotheistic and then it deviated in several polytheistic roots. In fact, several religions such as Zoroastrism, Buddhism, Mithaism and many others are branches of Hinduism. Hinduism does not have a real set of dogmas and beliefs as modern religions have. Hinduism is a cultural set of sub-religions, actually. From all of these, there is a branch that makes totally sense. God is exactly like the God of Judaism, an intelligent, immaterial, non-corporeal entity that fills the entire universe. However, this is only a little branch within Hinduism and several other branches believe in many gods, and even worship statues. A tradition in Judaism connects the two religions, so allow me to take a break and tell the story of Avraham the patriarch:
When he was young, he was a typical Bedouin working in an idol-shop with his father (cf. Joshua 24:2). One day Avraham was left to take charge of the shop and an old, yet vigorous, man came in to buy an idol. Avraham handed him the one on top, and he gave him the price asked. “How old are you?” Avraham asked. “Seventy years,” was the answer. “Silly!” continued Avraham, “how can you adore a god so much younger than you? You were born seventy years ago and this god was made yesterday.” The buyer threw away his idol and received his money back (Bereshit Rabbah 38). Avraham was very observant, and when one of the idols fell down and broke, he realized that idols were just stones with no power. Observing nature and the world he came to realize there must be only one single God orchestrating everything. Seeing the silliness of idol worship, he broke the idols and burnt the shop, becoming from then on monotheistic (cf. Yovel 11). The tradition goes to say that he sent part of his family to the East (India) to teach Monotheism to those countries (cf. Zohar).
But now the question is, how did Judaism begin? With a Revelation given to Moses? Not really, but with 3 million people seeing and listening at the same time the fire, the Voice, and the wonders that God performed at Mount Sinai after delivering them from Egypt. It was a massive revelation that only happened in a single religion, which is by the way, the only monotheistic religion from which most of the monotheistic religions derived. Were these 3 million people drugged or hallucinating at the same time? As some historians say, the evidence that these things took place are the Jews themselves. There is no point and no meaning in wearing tzitzit (fringes), or in avoiding eating pork, or in keeping Shabbat every week, or getting circumcised, or avoiding the mix of meat with dairy, or in teaching to their sons that their ancestors were delivered from Egypt, if the revelation at Sinai did never take place.
And many would say: But the teachings of Paul were a direct revelation of Jesus!! But you know what? The teachings of Mormonism also claim to be a direct revelation from Jesus! There are many revelations, and their Truth is only known by the one who has them. A revelation that cannot be proven says nothing to the rest of seekers. But think about this, the so called Jesus was not Christian, nor Mormon. He was a JEW! And Paul of Tarsus was also a JEW! And what they taught is found in the teachings of Judaism! When we trace back the origin of Christianity, Mormonism, Islam, and many other movements… we go back to Judaism. So, IF their teachings have some value, it is not because of the individual’s revelation, but because of the Torah that God gave to 3 million people at mount Sinai. Christianity was originally a massive bunch of separated communities of gentiles who separated themselves from Judaism and had (each of them) their own theologies. Later, its official creed was developed by the so-called fathers of the Church and then corroborated by a Mithraist Emperor called Constantine.
Others will argue: But we split up from the Catholic Church and came back to the source! We are the Protestants! But the Protestant movement also started with a single revelation that one man, Martin Luther, had of how the Bible should be interpreted (by the way, Martin Luther interpreted the Bible according to his own views – he did not care that it was an ancient Jewish text – and he is well known for his evident anti-Semitic works).
So this is what Torah says: “Ask now about the former days, long before your time, from the day God created man on the earth; ask from one end to the heavens to the other. Has anything so great as this ever happened or at least heard of? Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you (3 million people) have, and lived? Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testing and miracles, and wonders, by war and by mighty hand… like the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?” (Deuteronomy 4:32-34).
-Xus Casal, 2013